Fashion brands and publishers are beginning to wade into the world of emoji keyboards, taking a cue from commercial brands like Dove and Toyota, which have been building keyboards for months.
The latest comes from fashion icon Iris Apfel, who announced a partnership last week with Macy’s I.N.C. International Concept division on a forthcoming fashion line this fall. In February, Versace launched its own Valentine’s Day-themed emoji keyboard. Publishers like Cosmopolitan and Esquire have also joined the bandwagon, both releasing emoji keyboards this month, following the success of Harper’s Bazaar’s remodeled emoji keyboard.
Though the efficacy of these keyboards largely remains to be proven, Harper’s Bazaar has demonstrated there is an appetite for branded emojis among its readers, however fleeting: When the publisher offered the first iteration of its keyboard in 2014 during the first weekend of New York Fashion Week, it received 30,000 downloads in the first 24 hours, according to Wendy Lauria, associate publisher of marketing at Harper’s Bazaar.
“Our editors were looking to do something new and fun that could incorporate how our readers were communicating with each other, and at that time using emoticons in texts was beginning to take off,” Lauria said. “There weren’t many branded emojis available yet, we really were one of the first to do it in the fashion arena.”
Harper’s Bazaar views itself as a leader in the space and has continued to expand emoji offerings, launching a redesigned keyboard this spring. Since its April 2016 keyboard remodel, it has been installed 33.5 thousand times, and launched 1 million times on mobile devices. Lauria noted that currently 27 percent of users that download the keyboard are actively sending emojis, stickers and GIFs.
Fellow Hearst publications took note, including Cosmopolitan, which launched “Cosmojis” in early June, a collection of emojis including an iced coffee, “Netflix and chill” icon, and birth control case, that they felt would be relevant to readers. Likewise, Esquire launched its emoji pack last week, with featured imagery like dress shoes, a blazer and a bow tie that are emblematic of the brand.
While some of the early renditions of fashion emoji keyboards — including EmotiKarl, Chanel’s 2014 Karl Lagerfeld-focused emoji keyboard extension — were difficult to share the emojis, the technology has evolved. Whereas before users would have to compose a text in the app, take a screenshot, and then send to friends, now they can install emoji packs directly into their messaging interface.
Though the third-party platform has streamlined the use of emojis, Joe Stewart, founding design partner at Work & Co., suspects that the trend is just a novelty, with little longevity in practical messaging use. He noted waning buzz over Kim Kardashian’s emoji offering, which enjoyed a moment of success in the spring.
“I think people like to send emojis, but the current success of branded emoji apps right now are just a reaction to iOS opening up keyboards finally,” Stewart said. “My guess is this is a short-term trend, and as native messaging apps get more robust, the market for third-party novelty keyboards will fade away.”
Jessica Navas, chief planning officer at Erwin Penland, warned that despite their growing popularity among fashion brands, branded emoji keyboards have the inherent risks held by any other form of marketing or advertising, and may come off as fruitless if not executed correctly or lacking a clear sense of purpose.
“Like any other careless and tone-deaf advertising message, branded emojis that only serve the corporate brand aren’t going to be well-received and will likely be ignored,” she said. “Emojis need to demonstrate worth, either in utility or social badging.”